Installation Art and the Sublime

How does art and installations become a part of the sublime? How can a viewer be transported into another frame of mind or another space, how can a viewer have a complete multi-sensory experience within one piece of artwork? These are the questions that will be explored throughout this essay, considering both artists and their practices such as Bruce Munro, Kevin Schmidt and Olafur Eliasson; as well as academic sources, “Sublime Constructions,” by Harald Fricke, Joseph Addison’s “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime,” by Ksenia Fedorova, as well as considering other articles discussing these artists and their work in relationship with the sublime.

Firstly, what is the sublime and how does it function within the art world? Ksenia Fedorova introduces the idea of the sublime in her article, “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime.” She begins, “The concept of the sublime is one of the cornerstones of classical aesthetic theory, an iconic meme of the logic of ‘big narratives’ and essentialist constructions. Up until the end of the eighteenth century, however, it went hand in hand with another category (similarly dismissed today thanks to mass cultural industry production), the beautiful. The differences in definition developed only in the eighteenth century, where the sublime came to be understood as something transcendent, superior, exceeding the bounds of an ‘own’ – that is, familiar and explicable.” As Fedorova points out, the sublime can be an altered state of mind, which is a capable feat in today’s art world due to new technologies that allow artists to take ideas out into the field and create works outside, not just in gallery or studio spaces. New technology also allows for artists create work within a gallery that may contain elements of the outside or another space; both of these ideas allow for artists to create a space that will guide the audience to experience of sense of the sublime or transcendence. The opportunity for artists to expand installation art in relation to new technology has also had a huge impact on the art world and audiences, installations have become bigger and, thanks to technology, have become completely immersive and multi-sensory which allows for the audience to experience sublimity.

One artist that explores the sublime in the sense of transcendence for his audience is Bruce Munro. Munro is a British installation artist, who studied fine art at Bristol Polytechnic. His practice is focused on large scale immersive light projects, which are inspired by music, literature and human nature. The longest series of light installations to date is titled, “Field of Light,” which began in the UK in 2008 and has traveled as far as Arizona, US, in 2015. He took up this project after visiting the Red Desert in central Australia, he states in his biography that, “There is a compelling connection to the energy, heat and brightness of the desert landscape. Field of Light is an embodiment of this experience. I wanted to create an illuminated field of stems that, like the dormant seed in a dry desert, would burst into bloom at dusk with gentle rhythms of light under a blazing blanket of stars.” Munro’s installations allow for his audience to experience a multiple sensory experience of sight, hearing, smell of the outdoors and touch of the natural environment, which Munro encourages the audience to partake in, as well as the installation as an art piece. This multiple sensory experience, in relation to the sublime, becomes almost spiritual in the sense it allows the audience to slow down and stay within the piece for as long as they choose. It also transports the viewer to another space or state of mind outside of the garden or forest they might be in. The large scale installations allow the audience to experience darkness and vastness within the forest, which can be an uncomfortable setting for most, and perhaps scary, however it is also contrasted with bright, colorful lights, and music, both are considered happy experience for individuals. The vastness of the forest setting also asks the audience to expand their view beyond what is in front of them and take in the space as a whole, something Joseph Addison focuses on in his “Spectator” articles on “The Pleasures of the Imagination,” he states, “Our imagination loves to be filled by an object, or to grasp at anything that is too big for its capacity. We are flung into a pleasing astonishment at such unbounded views, and feel a delightful stillness and amazement in the soul at the apprehension of them. The mind of man naturally hates everything that looks like a restraint upon it, and is apt to fancy itself under a sort of confinement, when the sight is pent up in a narrow compass, and shortened on every side by the neighborhood of walls or mountains. On the contrary, a spacious horizon is an image of liberty, where the eye has room to expatiate at large on the immensity of its views.” Munro has created scenes in which the audience can expand their view to a wide amount of the forest, rather than viewing an installation work that is right in front of them. Viewers must move through the work and look at the space as a whole to take in this vastness, viewers become exhilarated by large scale immersive views.

Atlanta Botanical Garden GA USA 2015 Bruce Munro

Olafur Eliasson is and Icelandic-Danish artist who is well-known for his sculptures, site specific installations that may contain light, water and air temperature to change the viewer’s experience from simply viewing to a full body experience. One his best-known architectural interventions was titled “The Weather Project,” which was exhibited in 2003 in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London. This installation consisted of hundreds of warm lights that created a half sun, which was placed at the top of the wall, and was reflected in the large mirror installed on the ceiling, as well as mirrors installed on the side walls of the hall, as a final piece of the work, Eliasson installed a mist machine. “The Weather Project” was considered an architectural intervention within the modern museum, Brian O’Doherty discusses the idea of intervention within modern situations whilst being interviewed by Mark Godfrey for his article, “Public Spectacle.” O’Doherty questions, “Why are people drawn to the modern museum? The architectural phenomenon perhaps. Is it the obsolescence of various formal avenues to
transcendence? Has the museum become a kind of pseudo-spiritual place or a fortress in which something is enacted every day, some kind of sacrifice?” (Brian O’Doherty). Eliasson’s Weather Project has accomplished this architectural phenomenon and sense of transcendence that O’Doherty discusses, viewers did not simply view the work but were invited to lay down on the floor and experience the heat. The mist machine also had an effect on the participants as well as the feeling of the space, the audience clearly experiences the physical feeling of the mist and being hit by the mist. However, both the audience and the space are affected by the mist machine because it creates a refraction of light, closely resembling a haze, within the space which was darkened except for Eliasson’s sun installation, this psychedelic effect is discussed in Harald Fricke’s “Sublime Constructions.” He discusses the effect on the viewers, most groping their way through the space because of the lack of physical and virtual elements, “The imitation of the sun is accompanied by an endless expanse of mirrors which hang halfway down from the ceiling. In addition to spatial blackness Eliasson has filled the interior of the Turbine Hall with an artificial haze which diffuses the light. The consequence is an amazing mix of dazzle and eclipse with the viewer having to grope his way through the space with nothing to hold on to either visually or physically. The mirrored ceiling doubles, enlarges and reverses the physical volume; the haze makes the space even more impenetrable. In a further paradox the special sodium light bulbs filter out certain parts of the color spectrum so that there is less retinal information available to the eye than there would be with a whole color picture. As a result, the harder you look, the less you see. This creates a truly psychedelic effect, a blur of real and hallucinated space involving all the senses.” The Turbine Hall became a space in which viewers were no longer in the space of the modern museum, but rather a sublime space of the beauty of the sun, refreshing spray of the mist in contrast with extreme heat and a blinding haze that took over the space, forcing viewers to use their sense of touch, smell and hearing to find their way further into the room or out of the room.

The Weather Project Turbine Hall Tate Modern London 2003 Olafur Eliasson

Finally, an artist who explores the beauty of the forest using fog machines, Kevin Schmidt. Schmidt is a Canadian based photographer who holds a BFA from Emily Carr University, and is currently living, practicing and working in Vancouver, teaching at Emily Carr University. His work celebrates nature, specifically landscapes, and photographing different interventions within the landscape. One of his widely known works is a photographic series and installation from 2004 titled, “Fog Study.” “Fog Study” was a set of large scale slide projections that eventually became light jet photographs. Within this series Schmidt set up fog machines in the forest and shot during dusk/nightfall. Similarly with Bruce Munro’s work, Schmidt uses the forest as a space of beauty, yet shooting at night and adding a fog machine adds an element of uncomfortableness for the participants viewing the projections. When participating in the installations of the projections, viewers are able to stand in the frame of the image and project themselves into the forest, viewers become positioned in the landscape creating shadows, which exist within a forest setting. Even for those experiencing the photographic series later on, in display in such places as Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery, Presentation House, and Artspeak; there is a sense of sublimity through the beauty of the forest from the lush green colors to the texture of the trees, in contrast with the dark black blocking the background and the fog creeping through the trees into the foreground.

Fog Study 2004 Kevin Schmidt

“The artist is an inventor of spaces.” (George Didi-Huberman). Artists like Schmidt, Eliasson and Munro have accomplished this invention or transformation of spaces into a multi-sensory experience through their installation pieces, their work doesn’t shape what we want to see but rather asks the audience how do we see, how do we participate and how do we experience? These artists use their multi-sensory work to transcend the viewer into a space of sublimity, experiencing something joyful or beautiful and contrasting it with an element of uncomfortableness or darkness.

Works Cited

Addison, Joseph. “The Pleasures of the Imagination.” Spectator. No. 411, June 21st 1712.

Fricke, Harald. “Sublime Constructions.” Modern Painters 16.4 (2003): 92-95

Fedorova, Ksenia. “New Media Art and the Technological Sublime.” Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis 67 (2012): 33-44 Academic Search Complete.

Godfrey, Mark. “An Interview with Brian O’Doherty.” Frieze Magazine Issue 80. January-February 2004.

Munro Bruce.


Explorations with Fog

The following photos are from fall of 2016 when I was blessed to have a couple hours between classes on Granville Island. It was early morning and the fog had just rolled over False Creek. I couldn’t resist walking around and capturing this beautiful moment.


My questions for this exploration are, how do I connect with the sea? How does the water and foggy weather affect my lens, my mood? Am I connected? What parts of my body am I listening to?

I am aware of my body. My skin is raised with goosebumps from the chill and breeze floating across False Creek. My sense of smell is heightened, there is a slight salt smell drifting around the island, clinging to the fog clouds. As I walk through each cloud of grey I can feel a slight dampness hitting my face and settling on my eyelashes and my nose.

I am part of the ocean today

I would like to acknowledge Granville Island as unceded Aboriginal territory. I am blessed to be welcomed onto this land, and be free to walk upon Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh territory.

Exploring my Backyard

As a Vancouverite it’s easy to take for granted the beautiful city we live in because of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. I find downtown to be an assault on the senses and I need a breather after a few hours. I am so blessed to live right underneath Burnaby Mountain, this is my breathing space, my place to explore through photographs and writing. I find mental clarity walking around this beautiful mountain without technology and away from people.

Land and Belonging

DSC_0044 (2)How does belonging to an area of land become part of one’s identity? How is that identity affected when changes to the land occur? How do these changes create different public perceptions of an area or ones identity? These are questions I will be exploring throughout this written project. By exploring photographic works by Larry Towell, whose works present landlessness in war torn countries in relation to loss of identity, as well as works by James Luna focusing on how identity is perceived within the public eye, and how that perception causes an individual to change pieces of their identity. I will be discussing these artists and their works in relation to my current practice and recent photographic works which focus on events that have occurred within my community, the Kinder Morgan protests on Burnaby Mountain, the current conflict on the same mountain on trail use between hikers and mountain bikers, the construction of the Evergreen Skytrain, the sinkholes that occurred as a result of that project, as well as the construction of heritage homes into “monster homes,” and how these events affect my sense of belonging to a community and my identity.

I think it is important to first consider what belonging to land means, rather than land belonging to a single person or group of people. I think feeling a sense of belonging to an area is something formed uniquely for each person. Some may consider their place of belonging as their home or their community they currently reside in, for those who have moved it may be their homeland or where they originated from, and for others it may include family history, where their origins lay. Belonging to land is reliant upon connections to an area, whereas land belonging to people or a single person implies ownership over an area that no one else can possess. The following artists explore land belonging to people and how these people feel about these areas.

Larry Towell is a Canadian born photographer, writer, poet and folk musician from rural Ontario. His photographic practice focuses on identity and the idea of landlessness in countries or areas where conflict occur, Towell describes his practice as the following, “If there is one theme that connects all my work, I think it’s that of landlessness; how land makes people into who they are and what happens to them when they lose it and thus lose their identities.” One of Towell’s works exploring this concept is close to Towell’s heart, a photographic work he titles, “The World from My Front Porch.” Within this work he explores the small farming community in rural Ontario he grew up in, a place hat he felt “made him who he was,” he tells the story of his life in his hometown as his artist statement.
-“When I was an adolescent, my father once scolded me for wanting to drive to Florida with a friend. It was too far from home, and I would be corrupted by the distance, I was 16. I’d been brought up in a small farming community and had barely been 100 miles from my home. Neither had he, at least not more than once or twice. He hated travel. The world was his front porch and it made him who he was.” -Larry Towell
It is clear that Towell’s connection to his homeland is a huge part of his identity, rural Ontario became the only area he knew quite well, it was his community, his home, obviously becoming a big part of his life and practice, however it is also clear to me that Towell had a desire to explore the world. He accomplishes this in his works from 2008-2010 traveling to war torn countries such as the Gaza strip, Sal Salvador, Afghanistan, and not only witnessed but also photographed the September 11 2001 attacks in New York City. In these works Towell photographs, talks to, and forms relationships with citizens whose homes and lives have been uprooted by conflict. He attempts to understand the sense of exile, physical loss, recuperation, and most importantly the loss of identity because of land loss, these citizens experience.
James Luna is a Native American, Pooyukitchum artist working with contemporary installation and performance in relation to identity and presenting idealistic versions of oneself because of where one grows up or where an individual belongs to. His artist statement, as follows, clearly explains his views on how identity is affected, and can be changed, in the world today in regards to public perception and a marketed society, specifically for him, in regards to being First Nations.
-”In the United States, we Indians have been forced, by various means, to live up to the ideals of what “Being an Indian” is to the general public: In art, it means the work “Looked Indian”, and that look was controlled by the market. If the market said that it (my work) did not look “Indian” then it did not sell. If it did not sell, then it wasn’t Indian. I think somewhere in the mess, many Indian artists forgot who they were by doing work that had nothing to do with their tribe, by doing work that did not tell about their existence in the world today, and by doing work for others and not themselves. It is my feeling that artwork in the medias of Performance and Installation offers an opportunity  like no other for Indian people to express themselves in traditional art forms of ceremony, dance, oral traditions and contemporary thought, without compromise. Within these (nontraditional) spaces, one can use a variety of media, such as found/made objects, sounds, video and slides so that there is no limit to how and what is expressed.” -James Luna
The most important piece of this statement is where Luna discusses how Indians have been forced to live up to ideals of others based on their identity of being First Nations. This is a crucial aspect of identity because it is based on the area in which one grows up in or belongs, once again showing that land is a major aspect in identity. However, unlike Towell’s work who focuses on physical changes to land; Luna works with the public’s perception of one’s identity, Luna argues that public perceptions of individuals’ identities are based on where people are from or where they grew up.

Both Larry Towell and James Luna have been instrumental in influencing my work and how I consider identity and the relationship to land people experience. My current interests lie within the idea that people form relationships with land they grow up in, live in, or experience a connection with, and when changes occur to this area they consider home, their sense of self is questioned and identity has the possibility to be changed or affected. Currently I have been focusing on conflict that has occurred in my community. One of my largest explorations has been a photographic and written project and community collaboration surrounding the Kinder Morgan protests on Burnaby Mountain. I grew up in a small, tight knit community, directly underneath Burnaby Mountain, which is a place many community members use daily for hiking, mountain biking and dog walking. Thus, when the pipeline project began and protests occurred, many protesters used the community to walk through for access to trails up the mountain. Although there was no physical damage done to the land, it was still changed by an event that has become a part of community history, and many people, including myself, view the area of  Burnaby Mountain differently in the aftermath. Like Larry Towell’s work, this Burnaby Mountain piece explores changes that have occurred to a place that individuals belong to, hence the people within this area experience a sense of, as Towell’s terms it, “landlessness.” This initial exploration into the events on Burnaby Mountain and interest in Towell’s work, led into the exploration of other events that have occurred within my community. The current construction of the Evergreen Skytrain Line within my community consists of boring for underground tunnels within a residential area, the ground was not inspected before the process began, overnight sinkholes occurred in two spots in front of residential townhouses, blocking off entrance and exit for residents. Talking to many of these residents, they weren’t upset about the sinkhole specifically, but rather, the fact that this construction occurred without notification or opinion of the residents. Many felt as if their home was being taken over, the area in which they belong to was being changed and therefore their sense of belonging, sense of home and sense of community was being affected. It also changed how people viewed the community, many houses were for sale in the area, however when prospective buyers learned of what events had occurred, many became uninterested in the area. Like James Luna’s work, this idea relates to how people on the outside of areas or situations may view the area based on the identity of people who live there or the events that have occurred on that land.

In closing, relationships with land become part of one’s identity through growing up in the area or having experiences with the land where a relationship can be formed, this relationship with an area becomes apart of ones identity. Throughout exploration of my work, works of Larry Towell, and James Luna, it is clear that events that occur on land and in places people consider home, can affect ones sense of belonging, evidently affecting ones identity.
Works Cited

Luna, James. “Art Statement” James Luna: Allow Me to Introduce Myself. Web Access March 16 2015

Towell, Larry. “Artist Statement.” The World from My Front Porch.” 1990s. Web Access March 14 2015

Understanding Patriarchy: Bell Hooks

Hooks’ study focuses on male dominance, how men understand their role in regards to dominating and holding power over women. She also explores how women respond to patriarchy in today’s society.

There are some interesting comments Hooks makes regarding God in being raised in a church environment in regards to male dominance. She states that at church individuals are taught that God created man to rule the world and everything in it, this teaching then becomes natural to ways of living. I disagree with this statement. It makes a general assumption that all individuals grew up in a church environment, I myself did not. I was taught as a women that I have the right and the power to hold whichever job I want, to rise above standards and push for whatever I want in life regardless of gender standards. However I do question if my view would be different if I was raised within a church environment. Environment is another concept which must be further explored, I have questions regarding family relations

Hooks carefully examines psychotherapist John Bradshaw’s Creating Love, where he discusses family relations in regards to patriarchal views. He states, “The dictionary defines ‘patriarchy’ as a ‘social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family in both domestic and religious functions’.” Patriarchy is characterized by male domination and power. He states further that “patriarchal rules still govern most of the world’s religious, school systems, and family systems.” Describing the most damaging of these rules, Bradshaw lists “blind obedience—the foundation upon which patriarchy stands; the repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking.” Patriarchal thinking shapes the values of our culture. We are socialized into this system, females as well as males. Most of us learned patriarchal attitudes in our family of origin, and they were usually taught to us by our mothers.

This statement by Bradshaw and statement by Hooks create an uneasy feeling for me. I grew up in a very close-knit family in which family values and morals were the main focus. My mother is a strong force within our family, she keeps us together, the glue as many people would say. My mother taught me that I do not have to stay home to cook, clean etc while my significant other works. I was taught to be an independent women without a male dominating figure overlooking my every move.

However after careful reading of her study it appears Hooks is not only looking at male dominance over females but there is an underlying theme of people holding power over the weak based on societal positions, individuals who hold jobs such as CEO endow their power over those below them.

We also must consider the issue of feminism, a topic growing in popularity in today’s open society. However feminism has reached a point where women are no longer concerned with being equal but rather overpowering the male figure. This relates to the theme I stated above, once again it becomes a struggle of weak versus strong based on position. Feminism has become a movement in which men are now being caused pain.

It is clear that society needs to reflect upon past ways of living in which male dominance was the norm, we also must consider the role switch we are now experiencing in regards to the feminism movement. I question if there will be a point in the near future in which these labels do not exist and we live under complete equality and respect regardless of gender, race, beliefs or movements.

Article below:

EAT: A Successful Integration of Art, Technology and Science

            During the 1960’s the definitions of the art world, industry and sciences were unrelated, until an artist, Robert Rauschenburg and an architect, Billy Kluver, decided to blur those lines, by creating a project titled E.A.T, Experiments in Art and Technology. Through radical shows, performance pieces, installations, collaborative projects, and audience interaction, this group created some of the most groundbreaking works in history such as “The Pepsi Pavilion”, for Expo 70 in Japan. With works such as these, this project successfully integrated the art world, industrial communities and technical studies, creating an understanding for creators of today.

To fully comprehend the success of EAT, one must first understand the reason for its inception and who or what inspired Rauschenburg and Kluver to collaborate. The project’s inception came about through a previous collaboration in 1966 between Rauschenburg, Kluver, and artists and engineers such as John Cage, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton and Robert Whitman, titled “9 Evenings: Experiments in Art and Technology.” This experimental project pushed limits of theatre production, artistic exploration, technological experiments and tested the patience of its audience, as Michelle Kuo explains in her review of the DVD, “Open Score by Robert Rauschenburg: 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering.” “Oscillation between spectacular effects and the neo-avant garde devices of chance, randomness, and anticlimactic composition paralleled the contest between technological efficiency and haywire experiment.” The collaborators found this tension between technology, experiments, art and audience interaction fascinating and decided to explore these concepts on a much wider scale, considering relationships and how they can be changed, titling the project Experiments in Art and Technology, or E.A.T.

Launching in 1967, E.A.T. included roughly 3000 engineers and 3000 artists all working towards the same goal, to bridge the gap between arts, technology, and different social groups, as explained in Fred Turner’s “Romantic Automatism: Art, Technology and Collaborative Labor in Cold War America”, Turner discusses the first step in E.A.T’s success, promoting the project to a wide range of social groups, he explains in the quote, “In October 1967, Kheel helped Kluver and Rauschenburg stage a press conference to publicize E.A.T’s role in promoting artists’ collaborations with the scientific and industrial communities, and with labor. The speeches there suggest that E.A.T offered both management and workers a way to re-imagine technocentric labor in terms set by the Romantic automatism of the art world.” This press conference was a major step in E.A.T’s successful integration as it publicized the project and more importantly appealed to all social groups as being able to participate, they did not limit the project to artists and engineers alone but invited labor communities and scientific researchers to work in partnership with already well known artists and top engineers.

E.A.T’s most well known and successful project was titled “The Pepsi Pavilion”, which was created for Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, this presentation, influenced by Happenings, pushed the limits of theatre performance and audience interaction. The Pavilion consisted of different experiences in which audience interaction was imperative. One area presented the idea of a large spherical mirror where audience members viewed their reflection which was transformed and suspended above them. David Tudor and Gordon Mumma designed the soundscape element of the work, the duo composed electronic music scores through a surround system that relayed images and music behind the mirror dome. This feature also included audience interaction through coils placed in the floor which, when triggered by audience movement created sounds relating to the textures of the floor, audience members were told to compose their own piece. The final aspect is the non-existent wall dividing the stage from the audience; the audience had to enter the stage area to experience the work fully. The importance of this project towards integration of arts and technology is explained in Randall Packer’s “Composing with Media: Zero in Time and Space.” Packer discusses this work’s radical concept of creating an interactive, theatrical, technological environment that changed the ideas of multimedia work, he states, “The importance of the Pepsi Pavilion created by E.A.T. (Experiments in Art & Technology) for Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, lies in its radical departure from traditional theater. With the Pepsi Pavilion, a new paradigm in live performance emerged: the notion of interaction between the audience and the theatrical environment, as well as among members of the audience. The artists and engineers who conceived the Pepsi Pavilion created an immersive audio-visual environment that invited the audience to freely explore ‘a theatrical situation that [could] be available at any time.” The idea that this work requires audience interaction to function allows for E.A.T’s goal of artistic and technological integration to succeed, the interaction of the audience proves social acceptance, which is the final and most important aspect of the E.A.T project.